Posted: November 2, 2022
If you are one of the millions of Americans taking care of an aging parent, family member, or a spouse who requires daily care, you are at risk of developing caregiver burnout. This very real condition is defined as a debilitating psychological condition brought about by unrelieved stress. Healthcare professionals do not take this lightly—and neither should you.
Burnout. Most of us are familiar with the term. Overworked, over-stressed and overextended—in our “you can do it all” culture, most can relate. But what if you’re the caregiver for a loved one who can’t take care of themselves? It’s all too easy to put personal needs aside when someone relies on you to help them with all the normal tasks of everyday life, but this can be exhausting and detrimental to your emotional and physical health. Without support, burnout can be the devastating consequence.
The more you know about caregiver burnout, the better you can protect yourself.
Caregiver burnout is all too common. In a survey by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP Public Policy Institute, 40 percent of caretakers felt emotionally stressed and about 20 percent felt physically strained.
There are warning signs before burnout occurs. Noticing the following signs should signal that it’s time to take steps to combat the stress you are under:
When you find yourself caring for a spouse with an illness and your daily routine revolves around their needs, it can be an incredibly lonely time. Social activities decrease, and friendships are neglected. The tasks of caregiving take over any free time. Loneliness and isolation can lead to depression and even thoughts of suicide.
Spousal caregivers often feel torn between caring for themselves or their partner. Many feel guilty for doing too little or too much. Some caregivers are unhappy with this unexpected role, and those feelings are valid. Caregiving can also take a toll on physical health.
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The sandwich generation is a term given to those who are taking care of young children as well an aging parent or relative. Coping with one is difficult but caring for multiple individuals of varying ages can cause typically middle-aged caregivers immense stress and feelings of not being appreciated. All leading indicators of caregiver burnout.
Often these caregivers have jobs outside of the home, and many feel forced to sacrifice their career to manage caregiving duties. This not only can lead to financial problems, but the transition can be a frustrating and difficult one.
It’s important to remember that you don’t have to do it all. Ask family and friends to help with some of your caretaking tasks. Seek support from those close to you or a support group so you can process your feelings and emotions. At Cappella of Grand Junction, for example, we hold a monthly Memory Café which is a safe and comfortable event where caregivers and their loved ones with dementia can socialize with others in a similar situation. It is a chance to enjoy food and drinks, listen to music, and take a break from the normal routine.
Make sure you take these regular breaks; they are necessary to help relieve stress, restore your energy and most importantly, prevent burnout. Social activities are important, so don’t feel guilty for continuing to do the things you enjoy that can get you away from the daily routine of caregiving.
Remember, if you don’t take care of your own health, you can’t take care of someone else. Don’t put off doctor appointments for preventive care. Get plenty of sleep and eat a healthy diet. Exercise regularly to relieve stress, increase energy, and take time for yourself. Regular exercise can also boost your mood and help keep depression at bay.
Take family leave, if possible, from your full-time job. Removing the stress of work can reduce your responsibilities and free up more time for yourself.
Consider respite care for a few hours or even a few weeks if you start to feel stressed. When you need time for yourself, in-home services, such as a home health aide or an adult day center, can take care of your loved one. A residential care facility provides overnight care if you need a longer break.
When it is no longer feasible for you to continue as caregiver, it might be time to talk with your older loved one about moving to a senior living community.
Many adult children have mixed feelings about suggesting a senior living community to their parents, and some even feel guilty about it, but there are many advantages to senior living most don’t consider.
These communities are not only safer for older people because trained medical professionals are close by, but there is plenty to do to keep bodies and minds active.
You can do much of the legwork in finding the right place for your loved one, including virtual tours, talking with friends who may be living in a senior community, and checking out the options that will be best suited for your elderly loved one or parent.
At Cappella of Grand Junction our innovative Rhythms philosophy and approach to memory care centers on and adapts to each person’s natural rhythm of life. We strive to educate everyone who is living with dementia—including families and communities—so that they feel supported and can offer support to others on the dementia journey.